Down a dirt road in West Tisbury is a magical place where bunnies are friends with miniature horses, fish swimming in the tanks arrive on boats and a White’s tree frog named Large Marge is the unofficial mascot.
This is Little Leona’s Pets and Supplies, the place where Island kids get their first hamster, where pet owners pick up their fish food or feeder mice, and where admirers come to visit the miniature horses and, for a time, an octopus. It’s part farm, part animal oasis, and it’s the Island’s only pet store.
Rebecca Clements opened the store with Nancy Britt in 2005. The other pet store on the Island was going out of business, and the two decided they wanted to start their own store. A couple of years later, the two moved on to other pursuits and Rebecca’s mother Vivian Flanders, who was born and raised in Oak Bluffs, took the reins.
“I had to learn it all, because I didn’t know anything about fish or anything,” Mrs. Flanders said. “Crash course.”
“I just had to do a lot of reading...[it was ] trial and error and now I can understand why there’s not any pet stores on the Island, because it’s a lot of work. A lot of overhead.”
The pet store is located off State Road, next to where Mrs. Flanders and her husband, Frank, have lived for 41 years. There are also stables for miniature horses, which Mrs. Flanders has raised and bred for years, and her children and grandchildren live next door.
The store is named after Mrs. Flanders’ mother, Leona, with a bit of her granddaughter thrown in, too. Evidently, Mrs. Flanders’ granddaughter embraced the matriarch’s attitude, she said, “so we kept calling her Little Leona, and the name stuck.”
Little Leona’s is not the place to go for a cat or a dog. Carrying those animals is “more involved,” Mrs. Flanders said. The only dogs around are Mrs. Flanders’ English bull dog and her puppies, and instead of a barn cat, there’s a barn rabbit.
But for those in the market for a leopard gecko, a fluorescent Glo fish or a red-eyed tree frog, this is their spot. There are tanks full of saltwater and freshwater fish, including a “Finding Nemo” tank, where clown fish frolic with regal blue tangs while newly arrived coral acclimates in plastic bags.
“Saltwater fish are big on the Island,” Mrs. Flanders said. “The biggest thing I see here is the fish.” The other big seller is reptile food, such as crickets and feeder mice. “Mostly we sell a lot of crickets and worms.”
In the reptile room, Large Marge lives among several cages of snakes and frogs.
On the opposite side of the store, Mrs. Flanders’ white Citron cockatoo Chloe shares a cage with Livingston, a 70-year-old parrot. A noisy cage full of Red Factor canaries sits above cages of furry animals, including mice (both feeder and pet), a sleeping teddy bear hamster, four fighting gerbils, rabbits and a pregnant guinea pig.
The animals are well-socialized, in part by Mrs. Flanders’ grandkids, who come over to play with them.
In the spring, the store carries pond fish, such as koi and comets, and pond plants. They also board small animals and birds.
A lot of animals come back to Little Leona’s, too. Sometimes they arrive when people can’t take care of them anymore, and other times they are returned. “They give them to me and I kind of adopt them or we sell them,” Mrs. Flanders said. Large Marge fits this category. “She’s older so she just kind of hangs out here. The kids enjoy looking at her.”
The store once had a beloved octopus that was caught off Menemsha and lived the rest of his life at Little Leona’s.
“People loved to watch him eat because we would feed him live crabs,” store employee Leah Pachico said.
“It’s been fun having all the different things,” Mrs. Flanders said.
Spiders are not a part of the menagerie. “You won’t see a tarantula in here because I’m afraid of spiders,” Mrs. Flanders said.
Out back, in a yard filled with fancy windmills and whirligigs made by Mr. Flanders, are seven miniature horses, half the amount Mrs. Flanders once had. “I’ve always had horses,” she said, and she ended up getting miniatures “because they stay like babies all the time, you know.” She used to breed them, “but there’s not really a market anymore.”
One of the horses, Sugar, has forged a friendship with Lucky, a rabbit.
“When [Sugar] was really young she was nothing but a ball of hair so the rabbit would crawl on her,” Mrs. Flanders said as an old goat named Jack nibbled on her coat. At dinner time, Lucky eats with the horses, and she likes to curl up with Sugar. She’s been spotted eating hay that is hanging out of the horse’s mouth.
Little Leona’s is a small operation. Ms. Pachico, who has worked there “forever,” is Mrs. Flanders’ only employee. Mrs. Flanders’ sister in law Diane Batten volunteers at the store, cleaning out cages.
While animals are a big draw, the human customers are the best part of the operation, Mrs. Flanders said. The store mostly serves year-rounders, though summer visitors come in to get dog treats or look at the horses. When school lets out there’s extra business. “People come in and grab their crickets.”
“Everyone’s happy that comes here,” Ms. Pachico said. “You get a lot of kids that come here and they love to feed the horses. They can’t ride them so they want to do anything they can.”
“I did have one person come through one year and ask if they do trail riding,” Mrs. Flanders said. “And I just kind of looked at her. Really, trail rides?”
There is a playground outside, built for Mrs. Flanders’ grandkids, where kids come to play. Ms. Pachico said regulars come in several times a week to buy food or to see what’s new.
“They know when I get my fish,” Mrs. Flanders said.
The animals ride over on the Patriot Boat after being ordered from Connecticut and Worcester. “Sometimes I’ll go over and pick them up in Falmouth if it’s really cold.”
While most of the animals are washashores, some animals are bred at the store, including rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. Baby rabbits are often sold quickly, Ms. Pachico said, because people come in and get to know them. “It’s hard to decide which ones we’re going to sell and which ones to keep for ourselves,” Mrs. Flanders said.
“Some people will come in the store and say, wow, you have a little bit of everything. They don’t realize how much we have here.” Ms. Pachico said.
What the store doesn’t have, they’ll order: ferrets, chinchillas, hedgehogs. The special orders usually come in within a week.
“Chinchillas are one of my other favorites,” Mrs. Flanders said “As you can tell I have a lot of favorites.”
Mrs. Flanders draws the line at bigger snakes, and things like chameleons and sugar gliders which are illegal to sell.
Pretty soon the store will start getting orders for Christmas; rabbits and guinea pigs and hamsters. “We set it up and keep it here because they can’t hide it at home and then they’ll pick it up Christmas Eve,” Ms. Pachico said.
“A lot of people still go off-Island to shop,” Mrs. Flanders said. “They think it’s cheaper but a lot of my stuff is cheaper than Petco. Some things are more expensive . . . I can’t beat Walmart and I’m not going to try.”
“I think people appreciate the style of the store,” Ms. Pachico said. “It’s not like a big chain store and you don’t really see many of these pet stores anymore. Customers will mention that, they’ll say this is the cutest little place.”